Sometime last year I won an old camera at a local auction and the lot included a plastic box containing what appeared to be lots of empty film boxes from the last 50 years or so. I had a quick look at a few of them but I could tell from the weight that they had nothing inside them.
In the process of cleaning up my darkroom yesterday, I was about to tip the contents into a rubbish bag when I thought I should have a closer look. One or two old items were in there that made me glad I did.
There was nothing of any worth but a few things of some historical value. These Ilford metal film containers - three in total - date from 1956 according to their expiry dates. What a beautiful way to package some film.
Even older were these two Ferrania containers with dates of 1954 on their underside, again a nice bit of nostalgia. Wouldn't it be great if the resurrected Ferrania chose to offer their new colour films in metal containers. I suppose economics might rule that out but it's a nice thought.
Now, what about this old Kodak cassette? It once housed some Plus X but there's no date on it at all. Could it be older than the Ilford and Ferrania containers or about the same age? It was heavy enough that I went into the darkroom just to make sure there wasn't a film inside. Sadly, no.
Before the plastic age, companies had no alternative other than to make the most of the materials available which is why we have these wee gems from the past but nothing to compare from the present.
Tucked away at the bottom of the box of boxes was another interesting find, something that you don't see every day. It's a Sigell Instant Developer tank designed to make it possible to process a film without removing it from the cassette.
It looks straightforward enough but, like all these devices, I'd imagine it would only have a chance of working well with a 24-exposure roll where there's a little more room for the chemicals to circulate. Legend has it that these were sometimes used by Press men in a hurry when just getting something - anything - to wire back to the office was what mattered. Today's digital Press photographers don't know they've got it made.
As an aside, I once had to write the retiral piece for one of the photographers on the paper for which I worked. He'd started off in the 1950s with an MPP 5x4 machine which fitted, with its dark slides and accessories, into a leather case that weighed (from memory) something like 30 lbs in total. Almost 50 years later, the bag he was carrying around just before he retired was filled with Canon Eos digital gear and weighed exactly the same as his original kit!
Of course, he could do a lot more with the digital equipment but his back didn't benefit much from this increased capability. The lightest gear, he said, was in the mid-1960s when a Rolleiflex and a Nikon SLR with a couple of lenses was all he had to carry on assignments.
But back to the Sigell. Will I give it a go? I might if I can find an out-of-date film that I can afford to waste but I'm certainly not going to try it with a roll of Tmax 400. I suppose I could always snip some film from a roll, load into a reloadable container and try it out just out of curiosity.
So were all the boxes in the photo at the top of this post empty? All but one. One seemed a little too heavy and it turned out to have a roll of Verichrome Pan - with an expiry date of 1974 - in it. Coincidentally, that was around the same year I first started taking an interest in photography, going out with my dad's Paxette and a roll of colour slide film in it and putting a yellow filter on the front to see what the results would be like. Duh!
That's the end of this little exercise of paddling around in a pool of nolstagia. It carries the important lesson that you should never throw anything out without first having a good look at it!